Cowgirls make themselves at home in new arena

When Regan Bolton and the rest of her McNeese State women’s basketball teammates walked into the Health and Human Performance Education Complex for the first time on Wednesday afternoon, their eyes got big.

The H&HP — also known as the future full-time arena and practice facility for McNeese men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball — is not yet fully ready to host games.

The Houston Rockets got to break in the new facility with a brief week of training camp in September.

The men’s team started practicing there last week. And the women’s team got its shot on Wednesday.

"When we all walked in, it was just so surreal," said Bolton, a junior guard. "We’ve never practiced or played in anything like that. To have a real gym and a practice gym, it’s pretty awesome."

Prior to Wednesday, McNeese either practiced on campus at Memorial Gym or 3 miles south of campus at Burton Coliseum. Both present challenges, but in different ways. While Memorial Gym is convenient because it’s on campus, it is older and smaller. And Burton Coliseum, while larger, is more of a hassle to get to because it’s off campus.

"I’m just glad these kids finally have a place to go," head coach Kacie Cryer said. "They won’t be going all over town. They can walk across the street because we all live on campus. Having locker rooms to stay in, being able to put their stuff somewhere and know that they can keep it here. We’re excited for that."

In addition to the main court in the arena, the H&HP’s practice facility has two courts. That allows more to get done in practice, and more space to do it. During a portion of practice, the post players worked at one end of the court while the guards worked at the other end. On the other court, an injured player went through rehab drills with a trainer.

"It’s nice to have an arena of our own," Cryer said. "And to actually have a lot of space to utilize a lot of different courts and just do different things that we hadn’t been able to do. We’ve had Burton and it’s been nice, but having two practice courts, it makes it even nicer."

The Cowgirls’ first regular-season game is Nov. 9 when they travel to play Grambling State. It’s been just over a week since McNeese Madness, which was the first time the Cowgirls met the public with a intrasquad scrimmage and autographs. Cryer said the team has improved in that time.

"I thought (Tuesday) was one of the best practices we’ve had since we’ve been getting going," Cryer said. "Just the tempo, you can tell they’re starting to get more comfortable with everything. We’re just getting better every day, and that’s what we want to see as a staff. I’m proud of where we’re at. I’m proud of the work. We’ve still got a ways to go, but it’s just about taking it one day at a time."

McNeese’s first home game is Nov. 11 against Louisiana-Lafayette. It remains to be seen if the new arena will be ready for that game.

The 145,000-square foot, $42-million facility was scheduled to be finished in June. It will seat 4,200 for basketball.

Bolton — who said she and her teammates were in awe when they saw the arena portion — predicts that the new arena will pay dividends with better attendance.

"The students don’t want to drive all the way to Burton," Bolton said. "So having (the arena) on campus, they’re able to come and I feel like we’ll have much more people at the games."